The Old Kingdom Trilogy by Garth Nix {book review}

 

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Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen series, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear—and sometimes disappears altogether.

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The amount of hype surrounding this book is insane. Every review I’ve read was full of praise, everyone was raving about how fantastic the characters are and how the plot is so gripping you won’t be able to put the book down. So imagine my disappointment when I went into this trilogy expecting a blow-my-mind type of story and got instead a bore-the-crap-out-of-me one. Yes, the plot was somehow interesting and well-done, the characters were bearable and the writing was decent, although there was nothing remarkable about it.

The story kicks off when Sabriel’s father, the Abhorsen- who is the only one who can control the dead and protect the living, goes missing. The eighteen year old heroine must do everything in her power to find him and restore the order in the Old Kingdom. Mogget, a talking cat with mysterious origins, joins her in her quest. He was weird, but the best kind of weird and my favorite character in this trilogy. He and the others characters in Sabriel make an appearance in the next books, but Lirael and Abhorsen take place fourteen years later and follow a different cast of characters.

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The first installment was by far my favorite. Sabriel is a well-balanced character, she’s strong, but not bordering on unrealistic, she’s smart and she was interesting enough to hold my attention. Touchstone was no less interesting and my only regret was that he hadn’t been introduced earlier in the book. The romance was a nice touch to the story, but it wasn’t the focus of the book which made it that much more refreshing.

Touchstone watched, suddenly conscious that he probably only had five seconds left to be alone with Sabriel, to say something, to say anything. Perhaps the last seconds they ever would have alone together. I am not afraid, he said to himself.
‘I love you’ he whispered. ‘ I hope you don’t mind.’

Mogget’s cleverness and sassy comebacks were probably my favorite part of the story.

He growled and grimaced as they came to him, and clenched his fists in pain and anger.
‘Unusual name,’ commented Mogget. “More of a bear’s name, that growl.’

I have to admit the world-building was unique. On the other hand the magic system seemed pretty unrealistic to me. The narrator’s voice wasn’t extremely compelling, some parts of the book I found kind of info-dumpy and boring and as a result I spaced out more than once while reading.

The few things I liked in Sabriel, were missing completely from the sequel. We are introduced to two new main characters. First we have Lirael, a daughter of the Clayr, whose biggest problem is the lack of the gift that allows her to see the future. She’s annoying and whiny and I don’t know about you, but a fourteen year old girl whose answer to all her problems is suicide isn’t exactly on my enjoyable characters list.

Even now, she wished she could write a note, push it across the table, and go away to her room.

Sameth started off better, but my respect for him went downhill quickly. He’s spoiled, selfish and obnoxious. He wouldn’t go seek help from anyone even though his problems affect so many more people than just him. Instead he throws himself a pity party, that would put even Lirael’s one to shame.

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I think this book could have been written in a lot less pages. The pacing was weird and there wasn’t much action, only fillers that set the scene for the finale. What saved this one for me was the snippets of the library we get to discover alongside Lirael. Those few chapters were fascinating and I think Nix has done a wonderful job portraying a librarian.

Luckily a lot of my issues with Lirael were solved in Abhorsen and I enjoyed this one more. The characters grew on me and there was considerably more action. A lot of questions were finally answered and we get to know some of the side characters on a deeper level.

“So I’ll do that, and I’ll do my best and if my best isn’t good enough, at least I will have done everything I could, everything that is in me. I don’t have to try to be someone else, someone I could never be.”

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I found this finale satisfying and everything tied up nicely. The climax wasn’t bad, but most of the twists were predictable so its impact was diminished a lot.

I think this trilogy is a great bridge between middle grade and young adult and if that’s what you’re looking for you should probably give it a shot. However, Garth Nix’s writing style is definitely not for me and I don’t think I’ll pick up another book of his anytime soon.

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★ ★  ½

 

 

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